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6. Our First Landing?

Formally Dressed Welcoming Party

sunny 34 °F

This what will become our routine: Wake-up at 7:00 followed by breakfast at 7:30 followed by a Zodiac expedition at 9:00. This morning we are, after having sailed 143 nautical miles overnight, anchored in Mikkelsen Harbour on the south shore of Trinity Island which shields the peninsula from the Bellingshausen Sea. Your glass tabletop serves as a descriptor for the waters here. It is dead calm and peaceful beyond measure. Ice surrounds us. Silence is company to the crispness of Antarctic air.

KyaksAwait.JPGKayakersAweigh.JPGLaurenDianneKayaking.JPGIntrepid kayakers Lauren and Dianne depart before the remainder of our 71-person landing party. Those of us who Zodiac directly to the shore are welcomed by a Gentoo Penguin rookery guarded by a trio of dozing seals. Several nests are here, some with eggs at penguin feet; we did not see any chicks. Soon, they will hatch, but not today.SealsDozing.JPGEggGuarding.JPGPenguinsNesting.JPGPenguinNestBuilding.JPGPenguinAshore.JPGPenguinCalling.JPGPenguinsTalking.JPGPenguinsLooking.JPG

We are cautioned to remain 15 feet from penguins and to avoid their “highways” when they are on the move between their nests and the sea. Our landing site is marked by two skeletons: a long abandoned skiff and a long deceased whale.

SkeletonWhale.JPGSkeletonSkiff1.JPGThe silence is sharply broken by our 16-strong Chinese contingent whose cultural preference is for dialog, selfies, and a bit of mayhem. Over the din the occasional crack of ice from the far distant glaciers can be heard—if you’re lucky. One distant glacier calving event is observed but none of us is quick enough to capture it with anything other than eyes and ears.

MichelleHughCamo.JPGA pair of giant penguins—which turns out to actually be New Yorkers Michelle and Hugh—returned to the beach to fetch some stragglers.



After lunch back aboard Hebridean Sky, (she repositions slightly while we dine alfresco on Deck Five Aft) we again Zodiac, this time to Cierva Cove which is nestled onto the western side of the actual Antarctic Peninsula. For the record, was to be our first actual first footfall upon the actual continental mainland BUT there was no suitable landing spot. We cruised it.

We saw beautiful bergs, more penguins, a humpback and our Zodiac picked up a piece of black ice to bring back for cocktails tonight. Tate, our youngest cruiser actually plucked this bit out of the sea (his dad held his ankles).

All but 2% of Antarctica is covered by a 1.2 to 3-mile-thick sheet of ice. It is the coldest, driest and windiest place on this earth. The last source I read reported that the lowest temperature ever measured here was -135.8 degrees. Ninety percent of the planet’s freshwater ice (and seventy percent of the total amount of fresh water) is here. If the ice sheet melted, scientists say it would raise global sea level about 16 feet. That would swamp our condo in Florida.

The ice shelf, that amount of ice that extends beyond the landmass beneath, is about the size of France. In March of 2000 a chunk of it broke off. That chunk was roughly the mass of the state of Connecticut—170 miles long and 25 miles wide. Satellite measurements over the past 23 years show that the thickness of this shelf—which like a safety band holds the land-based ice in place, is rapidly decreasing. Many scientists say that may mean that Antarctica itself may soon begin to shrink at a dangerous pace.

There are two active volcanos here; one is far beneath the ice. I will, I understand, be near both of them and, given the events on White Island, New Zealand, this week, that will, I hope, cause us to give them a wide berth. I certainly won’t be taking a Zodiac to hike the caldera, of that you can be certain.

The Gamburtsev Mountain range here is 750 miles long with the highest peaks reaching to around 9,000 feet. Beneath the ice is the freshwater Lake Vostok…about the size of Lake Ontario. There are about 200 such bodies of unfrozen water below the ice. I have a hard time understanding exactly how an under-ice liquid lake can exist until I ponder the ice that freezes over the Great Lakes. Perhaps the principle is the same.

Until 1820, nobody knew Antarctica was even here. Russian explorers Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev aboard their ships, Vostok and Mirny, are said to be the first humans to lay eyes on it. They didn’t make landfall (or even icefall); that honor went to a team of Norwegians 75 years later in 1895. In January of 1979, Emile Marco Palma became the first baby born on the continent; only ten more babies have been born here since. Emile turns 41 next month.

Antarctica is a continent; not a country; no country legitimately lays claim to any part of it. Legally, it is a de facto “condominium”* governed by parties to the Antarctic Treaty System (50 nations); no military or mining activity can be conducted here, nor can any nuclear waste be stored here. Even so, various historical claims currently exist on Antarctica by France, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Germany, Argentina and Chile. Nothing is ever simple.

  • A condominium is defined as (1) the place where I live and (2) as a political territory over which multiple powers formally agree to share equal dominium and to exercise their rights jointly without dividing it into national zones. Besides Antarctica, the other geographic condominiums are Moselle (between Luxembourg and Germany), Pheasant Island (between France and Spain), Brčko (between Bosnia and Herzegovina) and The International Space Station. I’ve been to none of those.

No other place on earth borders four of the earth’s five oceans: Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Southern Oceans (the Arctic Ocean is the fifth).

And, of course, it is, along with the Arctic, the land of the midnight sun. While I am here, the sun only briefly sets--at around midnight--to quickly rise again around 2:20 am. While the sun is technically “set” for those two hours or so, it remains just beneath a twilight. Solar noon—the time the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, about 49 degrees—occurs around 1:15pm. Since 90 degrees would place the sun directly overhead, imagine that 49 degrees is just over halfway “up” the sky at mid-day. On the same date in Kansas City, at noon, the sun is at 28 degrees, just over a quarter of the way “up” the sky. Thought of another way, I’m in summer here while Kansas Citians are in mid-winter there. To confuse things even more, the average December temperature here ranges from a low of 31 degrees to an average high of 38 degrees. Back home, the December averages are 26 low and 44 high; both a bit colder and a bit warmer with an average day length that is much shorter: approximately 7:30am-5:00pm vs 2:20am-Midnight; very different. Sunscreen here is a must.

It is difficult to acclimate to such long hours of daylight. The North American body is accustomed to the sun setting and night falling. In the Arctic in our summer and in the Antarctic in our winter, that just doesn’t happen. So, when it is time for bed, the cue that we all follow—darkness—is missing. That makes bedtime seem arbitrary and uncertain. It is disorienting more than disconcerting.

large_ReflectionInMiddelsenHarbour.JPGOur daily recap occurs at 6:45 followed by dinner at 7:30. I suspect all aboard would agree: it was a perfect day in amazingly accommodating weather. When one can shoot a reflecting photo in these waters; well, that is remarkable.

Posted by paulej4 12:53 Archived in Antarctica

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Awesome pics. Love the penguin highways. The trip sounds amazing. Stay warm. Glad you are having fun

by B4

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